Home | Calendar | About | Getting Involved | Groups | Initiatives | Bryn Mawr Home | Serendip Home

gender and sexuality home
Bryn Mawr Home Haverford Home

"Can Women Have It All?
And What Role does Public Policy Play?
A Study of Bryn Mawr Alumnae in the Federal Civil Service"

Marissa Golden
February 10, 2006

Marissa took as keynote for her talk the accomplishments of Betty Friedan, who died this past week. In The Feminine Mystique, Friedan argued that housekeeping was not fullfilling enough for women, that they needed to be engaged in the work of the wider world. Since Friedan published her book in 1963, there has been a lot of progress in terms of women's engagement in the larger world, but the transition has not been seamless. As Arlie Hochshild has shown, there are many "second-shift" responsibilities, and lots of work-family conflict. Marisaa decided to focus her work on women employees of the federal civil service, which--largely for business reasons (to reduce absenteeism and create a more stable and happier workforce)--adopted many "family-friendly policies." And yet, "at the top, women start to disappear."

Finding Friedan's notion of "feminism as self-actualization" (used recently in a blog posting problematic, Marissa has developed a different argument for why women need to work: in order to increase human capital (that is: the knowledge, skills and reasoning abilities possessed by a workforce). Simply put, society can't reap those benefits from women, if they are not working. Marissa acknowledged that feminists (like Lisa Belkin) have also discovered that "work is not all it's cracked up to be." She also noted that a higer percentage of black women are in the workforce, and with less angst than white women: part of their definition of a "good mother" includes increasing the family's financial resources. There was considerable discussion of the viability of "human capital" as a measurement of whether policies are working; it was acknowledged that "this is just an economic definition." There are other values, reflected (for instance) in a balance of interpersonal relations and financial independence; but these have a role in the home. The focus of Marissa's work has been in the workplace, and her claim is that the U.S. economy will perform better if women are more fully employed.

We also discussed how a "human capital" perspective differs from Martha Nussbaum's "human capabilities" perspective: marginalized when out of the workforce "women and human development" The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work (1997) Do women believe in "self-ownership" as much as men do? Are they free to choose their path? How can we set up the workplace for women to develop their abilities? There were two contrasting arguments on the table: either "society loses out, if women don't get to contribute," or "women lose out, if they don't get to work." Must we measure human capital in productivity? The family-friendly workplace was developed by businesses Here's what's happening from the business perspective: societal structures can make it easier for women to work. In Marissa's vision of a just society, people are able to contribute their talents, without huge costs. These policies (which the business literature is not paying attention to, but sociology is) operate effectively as interventions in family conflict, are not effective in contributing to gender equality, and--as far as child-well being goes? Well, maybe. Do these policies solve the problems? There is a constallation of policies available. Because her concern is with the "disappearance of women @ the top," Marissa's first random sample was Bryn Mawr alums, aged 30-55, who have children and work in the federal governnment. Then, following a procedure known as "snowballing," she interviewed friends of these alumnae, all professional women with advanced degrees and kids, who "start to disappear from the top echelons of government service. In work-family conflict, familyp-friendly policies make a huge difference. The women Marissa interviewed were telecommuting: work from home one day/week very enthusiastic about telecoming (working from home one day/week, with childcare): it cut down on commute time, let them be home for repairs, doctor appointments--all the "household production" second shift tasks could be accomplished, thus freeing up the weekend for the family. Under the family-friendly leave act, federal employees are allowed to take some of their (very generous) sick leave to care for a family member. In the area of child well-being, however, the "policies don't go far enough." Under the family medical leave act, women can take 4-6 months of paid leave (by using vacation and sick leave) after childbirth. (Compare this to Europe, where women automatically get twelve months leave.) Using flextime, which lets you stagger your hours to fit your lifestyle schedule (as long as you are in the office during the "core hours" of 10-2. Families "flex" to minimize the number of hours their children spend in daycare. It was not good for family well-being: spouses never saw one another, but the A fourth option was part-time, a common trend: 1/2 of the women interviewed put in a 4-day 32-hour work week. The report on telecommuting is more mixed. One condition here is that kids have to be in daycare; it is not viable to care for your child while you are working--so the kids are still spending long days in day care. A 9-3 work schedule would be ideal for child well-being, but most parents feel that they would "miss out on too much at the office," and that their work day would be "too compressed," so for most workers this is not an option. What are our social conceptions of child well-being? One's heart goes out to these kids who are missing out of home life, whho ask, plaintively, "Why can't I be a walker?" If the school day were adjusted to be more like the workday, there would be no mother-guilt. (comparision was made to arrangements in Denmark: where before-and after-school care is integrated into the school day). This is a "big cultural thing": kids compare their lives with those of other kids, whose arrangements they take as reference for their own. Although these policies were not designed to accomodate women, but families, it is overwhelming women who take advantage of them. There was an expression of "disillusionment with workplace culture," which sees workers as replaceable, and doesn't create practices which reflect a desire to create better workplaces. People-friendly policies (such as paid leave, flextime and telecommuting) are used to ensure low turnover, reduced recruiting costs, and reduced safety risks. The women Marissa interviewed were full of praise for the federal support they received. But the stability of the federal workforce is about to be challenged; they are "about to face a retirement wave," and so need talent. There has been a "thickening of government": many different ranks have too many people in them; lots of pruning is needed. less resources According to the interviews reported by Ellen Galinsky in Ask the Children most children were not unhappy. The suggestion was made that we need to address an underlying assumption that children do not belong to the whole society. As Gornick and Myers show, the childless couple is not exploited by those who do have children. A "family friendly," "gender fair" As Nancy Fraser argues, until we assume that everybody has family obligations, we will just systematically marginize women with children. But it is not obvious which family-friendly policies will promote gender equality. Is it the care-giver parity model? The universal care-giver model? What's the operative unit here? Does it need to be bigger than the family? What do you need to be investing in the current crop? When the President's Advisory Board on work-family policy makes its recommendation, there may be resistance from faculty of earlier generations, who didn't have family. The family-friendly policies are less effective in the realm of gender-equity issues. These policies are disproportionately used by women (according to one national study, 80% of the part-time workers in the federal government are women). There need to be incentives for men to use these policies. Some women used the policies to help spouses advance their careers These policies enable women to fulfill their second shift responsibilities, but don't intervene to lessen their response. for those tasks: perpetuate gender inequity @ home women universally put selves on mommy track: slowed career advancement--enabled to keep working all turned down promotions: did not encounter glass ceiling "voluntarily" took themselves off the fast track to maintain work/family balance "treading water" to get the balance normative spin: women languishing @ mid management, below policy making grades not using policy to advance their careers make huge difference in their lives: happy campers re: second shift, work/family balance but societal costs, unintended: not reaping full benefit of human capital and not child wellbeing? can't ever shed our preconceptions of childwellbeing @ least kept in workforce in attentuated basis 3 punch lines: change behavior of men/workplace and ed'l system whole structure of ed'l system assumes availability of mothers not part of the discourse complex system: a discourse, from bottom up, we all reproduce gender bias colonizes family friendly policy we're all caught up in larger system reinscribe bias invidous ways power will migrate revolution: don't let football team drive my life! do we work too much? why is there a necessity to do 80 hrs. week? ethnographer: how much time actually spent doing science? how much we conflate leisure activities some can be contracted out political economy piece: billable hours pay associated w/ productivity fixed costs of living have skyrocketed "Two Parent Income Trap" there is no family wage: one adult cannot make enough society equates prowess and productivity w/ #s of hours spent in the ofc. we are used to all time as organized, social time: why we work so much The Time Bind: Arlie Hochshild--choose work because less stressful projects are eternal overlooking satisfaction of recognizing capacities no child raising courses "capabilities approach" has value, vs. human capital approach be more compassionate: value care more but society organized, will further marginalize what can't be measured problem persists: very complex women too have to develop their capabilities: not value capacity to care social welfare policies don't have this @ their core nets and bolts have to happen: religious order--all have to contribute to household work more economical to have staff reinventing idea that it all has to get done enormous amount of support work that has to get done, w/out grading. how change the behavior of men? lower standards? are we asking ourselves what we are doing? lit re: contracting out same sex couples: equally career oriented--no one sent xmas cards

Home | Calendar | About | Getting Involved | Groups | Initiatives | Bryn Mawr Home | Serendip Home

Director: Liz McCormack -
emccorma@brynmawr.edu | Faculty Steering Committee | Secretary: Lisa Kolonay
© 1994- , by Center for Science in Society, Bryn Mawr College and Serendip

Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 11:57:05 CDT